Centre for Continuing Education

Music Appreciation Course: A Brief History of Music

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

Appreciate and learn about music the smart way with Music courses at the University of Sydney.

How do the great composers fit into history? How are they influenced by their times, and how do they influence those who come afterwards? This music appreciation course explores the history of Western music, from medieval times to the 21st century, by linking musical examples to the arts and society of their times. Whether you are a long-term listener or a classical beginner, this course will provide a framework for understanding the music you love.

Course Outcomes

Upon completion of this music appreciation course, it is expected that participants will be able to:

  1. List some of the main composers of the each period of music history.
  2. List some music from each period of music history.
  3. Describe some of the musical characteristics of the each period of music history.

Course Content

During this music appreciation course each session will include a timeline of historical events, and a brief discussion of the arts and social influences of the period. We will explore the musical style of each period: what the great composers were aiming at, and how they achieved it. We will listen to many examples, and finish each week with guided listening to a great piece of music from the period.

From Ancient Times to the Medieval Period

  • The Elements of Music
  • Ancient times
  • The Medieval Period
  • Hildegard of Bingen
  • Interlude: The Origins of Western Pitch: Modes and Scales

The Renaissance, 1400-1600

  • Free polyphony and imitation
  • The Camerata and the birth of opera
  • Palestrina, Monteverdi, Josquin Desprez
  • Interlude: Church music

The Baroque Period, 1600-1750

  • Baroque polyphony: counterpoint
  • Continuo
  • Baroque forms: canon, fugue, suite
  • Motivic development
  • Bach, Handel, Vivaldi
  • Interlude: Hearing polyphony

The Classical Period, 1750-1820

  • The Enlightenment: order and structure
  • The birth of the symphony
  • The birth of the concert tradition
  • The piano
  • Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
  • Interlude: Classical forms

The Romantic Period, Part 1, 1820-1850

  • Romanticism: expression and emotion
  • The piano virtuosos
  • Nationalism
  • Bel Canto Opera
  • Chopin, Liszt, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn
  • Interlude: Lieder in the Romantic period

The Romantic Period, Part 2, 1850-1880

  • The birth of operetta
  • Programme music versus absolute music
  • New instruments, new sounds
  • Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Verdi
  • Interlude: Programme Music

The Impressionist Period, 1880-1920

  • Impressionism: Pushing the Boundaries
  • Impressionism in music
  • Between tonality and atonality
  • Moments rather than movement
  • Puccini, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel
  • Interlude: Impressionist Piano Music

The Twentieth Century, 1920 and onwards

  • An interest in folk music
  • Atonality
  • Serialism
  • Indeterminacy
  • Minimalism
  • Extended tonality
  • Bartok, Stravinsky, Schoenberg
  • Interlude: Music Notation: Control and Creativity

Intended Audience

This music appreciation course is designed for fans of classical music, beginners and experienced listeners alike. No prior musical knowledge is required.

Course Delivery

This music appreciation course will be richly illustrated with musical examples, illustrations and video clips. The tutor will use the piano to demonstrate musical concepts to the everyday listener. Questions from participants will be encouraged, and there will be room for discussion throughout the course.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion
$247 Limited inc GST
Music Appreciation Course: A Brief History of Music

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